J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

When Did Henry Knox Leave Boston?

One of the historical questions I’ve puzzled over is when Henry and Lucy Knox left Boston, making a break with her Loyalist father, Thomas Flucker, whom they never saw again. The family papers offer little clue.

Knox’s earliest biographer, Samuel A. Drake, wrote in 1873:
Just one year from the day of his marriage [on 16 June 1774] Knox quitted Boston in disguise (his departure having been interdicted by [Gen. Thomas] Gage), accompanied by his wife, who had quilted into the lining of her cloak the sword with which her husband was to carve out a successful military career.
Drake offered no source for that probably overdramatic sentence, but it was the earliest statement I’d found. Noah Brooks’s 1900 biography said the Knoxes left Boston on 19 April, again without support, and that book is unreliable on other matters. So my best guess was still Drake’s June date.

But I recently spotted a clue in the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooper’s diary for 14 May 1775. The day before, he wrote, he had gone to Concord and found the Rev. William Emerson absent. Cooper “engag’d to p[rea]ch for him on the Morrow, while he was to supply Groton.” So on Sunday the Rev. Mr. Cooper
Went to Concord with [daughter] Nabby. put my Horse at Mr [Ebenezer] Hubbard’s, found to my Surprize Mr. Emerson at the Meeting House Door. He pray’d I pch’d a.m. f’m, the Consolation of Israel. We din’d at Mr Emerson’s, with Mr. Knox and Wife of Boston. I pray’d Mr Emerson pch’d p.m. we drank Coffee at Mr Hubbards. slept at Mr. [Samuel P.] Savages. Horse at [Joseph] Russell’s.
There were a few other men named Knox in and around Boston in 1775, but Henry was the most prominent. So it appears the Knoxes were out of Boston and heading west by 14 May. Emerson’s more spotty diaries say nothing about them, but of course he didn’t know they would be famous.

TOMORROW: So who preached at Groton?


John L. Smith said...

In the Mark Puls book on Knox, which I have some other detail issues with, Puls simply just glides over a specific date of when the Knox's slipped out of Boston, saying, "Shortly after the battles of Lexington and Concord, Henry and Lucy dressed in disguises and prepared to sneak out of the city". Of course another Knox left in Boston in 1775 was Henry's brother - William - in whose care he left his London Book-Store in an attempt to keep it from vandals and looters.

J. L. Bell said...

I’ve noticed a similar pattern in other Boston families: some members leaving town during the siege (or at the end) while others stayed to preserve the property.